Home News Stories 2005 July 2004 Stories from the FBI Lab
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2004 Stories from the FBI Lab

The Case of the Explosive Shoes
And Other Amazing Stories from the FBI Lab


Evidence photo of shoe with concealed explosives

Remember back in 12/01, when al Qaeda-trained terrorist Richard Reid hid explosives in his black hiking boots, hoping to blow up a packed American Airlines flight over the Atlantic Ocean?

He didn’t succeed, of course, thanks to an alert flight attendant who smelled sulphur and spotted him trying to ignite his shoes. But how did we determine—and help prove in court—just how powerful those explosive devices really were?

We turned to our experts in the FBI Lab. They carefully examined the homemade shoe bombs—from the chemicals used to the “initiating system.” Then, they made a precise reconstruction of the bomb and tested it.

The result?

You’ll find the answer—with telling photographs—on page 20 of the recently posted FBI Laboratory 2004 annual report.

You’ll also find throughout the report more fascinating stories and information on how the FBI Lab supported key cases. For example:

  • Linking, through mitochondrial DNA testing, a hair from pliers found in Scott’s Peterson’s fishing boat to hairs recovered from Laci Peterson’s hairbrush—evidence that his defense lawyers tried unsuccessfully to exclude from the trial;
  • Using a variety of tests to clearly link a headband found at the scene of a domestic terrorist arson to William Cottrell, who was ultimately convicted of seven counts of arson and ordered to pay restitution of more than $3.5 million; and
  • Decoding a series of cryptic records in Spanish for a drug trafficking case, revealing more than $54 million in disguised drug payments, a list of names linked with the drug transactions, and records of money sent from the U.S. to Mexico.
You’ll also find details on:
  • New and improved Lab technologies, such as 3-D Laser Scanning;
  • Four new regional mtDNA labs that will open this fall;
  • The latest counterterrorism and forensic science research;
  • New international initiatives; and
  • Results of Scientific Working Groups, which are creating improved guidelines and standards on everything from microbial genetics to tire tread evidence.
The underlying message of the report? The FBI Lab is committed to working with and supporting its local, state, national, and international partners to protect this nation and make the world a safer place for all.